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Growing up in the “Home o’ Gomer” Sylacauga​.

Jim Zeigler



By Jim Zeigler

Sylacauga, Alabama’s own Jim Nabors (Gomer Pyle) has died at 87.

People who hear that I grew up in Sylacauga sometimes ask if I knew Jim Nabors growing up. For you yutes too young to remember, Jim Nabors was a nightclub singer who then became famous as Gomer Pyle on the Andy Griffith Show and, later on his own show, Gomer Pyle, USMC. He can sing like the voice of God in a deep, operatic presentation that is just the opposite of his high-pitched Gomer Pyle voice. “Shame, shame, shame.” “Surprise, surprise, surprise.” “Judy, Judy, Judy.” “Citizen’s arayest. Citizen’s arayest.” “Well, goooooooool-lee.”


I tell them, no. Jim Nabors is 18 years older than I. He was graduating from Sylacauga High School just as I was being brought home from my birth in the Sylacauga Hospital.

It is a bit strange that I had not at least heard of Jim Nabors before I was in the tenth grade and first encountered him. My classmate and friend Angela Danelutt is a first cousin of Jim Nabors and is quite close to him – then and now. Angela’s Uncle, the late T. Hunky Danelutt, was a well-known Sylacauga politico and character. Hunky was also the uncle of Jim Nabors. Uncle Hunky.

I wish Hunky Danelutt were alive and well and still involved in Alabama gubernatorial politics. Hunky picked the winner of the governor’s race every time, far as I can remember. And he got on the winning team early. Getting on early is the best time.

The race that amazed all Sylacauga was when Hunky figured out early that Fob James was his horse in the 1978 governor’s race. Early on, people did not yet know who Fob James was and did not think he could compete with the three B’s: Baxley, Beasley and Brewer. Fob of course led the field and then won the runoff against Bill Baxley. Hunky was in again.

Somehow, I should have known, even in the pre-Andy Griffith days, about this singer from Sylacauga starring in musicals in L.A. and Vegas. Well, here is how I found out.

I was sitting in last period band as we were warming up, getting ready to start band practice. In the tenth grade, I was in my fourth year playing trumpet in the Sylacauga Aggie Half-Million-Dollar Band. Our band director was the legendary Fess Simpkins.

Unannounced, a character walked into the band room from the hallway. He caught everybody’s attention at once with his loud ski sweater, sunglasses and big smile. When he came sauntering in, student trumpeter Barry McAnally laughed, made a catcall, and said “Hollywood. Hollywood.” Barry did not know just how right he was.

Fess called the band to order and introduced the guest.

“This is Jim Nabors, who played clarinet in this band and was our drum major. He now sings in a Broadway musical (that was not exactly right), “The Music Man.” He’s going to conduct you in a song, just as he did when he was drum major here.

Jim Nabors took over. He was funny and charismatic. The other band students and I were instantly impressed and curious about this neat Sylacauga guy.

After Nabors directed us in a piece he apparently knew, Fess took back over and said:

“Now, Jim Nabors will perform a part he does in the musical, “The Music Man.”

Nabors proceeded to knock our socks off, performing “Ya’ Got Trouble” about a pool hall opening in River City. Right here in River City.

Fess wound up this most unusual band class by telling us that Jim Nabors had just landed a part on the Andy Griffith Show playing an Alabama character (is that right?) named Gomer Pyle. We should watch for him. We did.

From that day, I, along with many of my schoolmates who were present for that memorable band class, followed the skyrocketing career of Sylacauga’s own Jim Nabors.

Jim Nabors’ parents remained in Sylacauga for years after Jim became a star. While Jim Nabors’ father was still alive, and before he moved his mother to his estate on Maui, Nabors came back to Sylacauga a lot. Particular at Christmas time.

Unbeknownst to non-Sylacaugans, the town has a nice-sized and active Catholic community at St. Jude Catholic Church. Our family friends, the Joe Clinton family, operators of Dixie-Color Printing in Sylacauga, were active members of St. Jude. They invited my brother Alan Zeigler and me to go with them to midnight mass one foggy Christmas Eve. It became a yearly tradition – midnight mass with the Clintons and a party afterwards at the Clinton home on Lloyd Lane in Sylacauga, which is still the Clinton home.

One Christmas Eve at midnight mass, I heard this booming voice from the choir. In St. Jude church – and I understand in many Catholic churches – the choir is in the upper loft behind the congregation. Behind and up. I strained to look around. There was Jim Nabors in the choir. I could hear him before I could see him.

O Holy Night. It was truly a holy night as Jim Nabors sang with the choir and then did an angelic solo of “O Holy Night.” Right here in Mayberry. I mean, Sylacauga. (To be continued). __Jim Zeigler


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Guest Columnists

Opinion | Battling the death penalty with Baldwin

Stephen Cooper



If you’re thirsting to understand our increasingly cold, jaundiced, at times carcinogenic society, James Baldwin’s singular insight about America and his dizzying, divine command of the English language are as refreshing as an icy elixir on the hottest day in hell.

Moreover, for death penalty abolitionists, Baldwin’s writing is particularly poignant in the wake of: (1) the Supreme Court’srecent refusal to reconsider the constitutionality of the death penalty, and, “wipe the stain of capital punishment clean” (In the aftermath, Reuter’s Andrew Chung soberly observed that “[t]he Supreme Court has not seriously debated the constitutionality of the death penalty since the 1970s”); (2) the Trump administration’s doubling down on a harebrained,ass-backward plan to put drug dealers to death; (3) the abominable push by legislators in several states to kill death row inmates by electrocution or even nitrogen gas—an unconscionable, ungodly, untested method (harkening back to atrocities like the gassing of the Jews, including my great-grandmother, during the Holocaust)—a method so gruesome and likely to cause pain and suffering, it’s not even accepted by the World Society for the Protection of Animals as a form of euthanasia; and last, but certainly not least, (4), the ignominious fact that Alabama has been consistently torturing poor death row inmates for a very long time, and currently, is primed to pump its nasty chemical cocktail into a long-incarcerated octogenarian (on April 19th).

In his magnificent essay, “The Artist’s Struggle for Integrity,” Baldwin made sense of such dastardly developments, writing: “There is such a thing as integrity. Some people are noble. There is such a thing as courage. The terrible thing is that the reality behind these words depends ultimately on what the human being (meaning every single one of us) believes to be real. The terrible thing is that the reality behind all these words depends on choices one has got to make, for ever and ever and ever, every day.”


Of course, Baldwin’s right (was he ever wrong?). Noble, courageous people exist in America—people with integrity who know it’s morally wrong to gas or electrocute other human beings to death. Yes, noble, courageous people exist in America, people with integrity, people who’re willing to call lethal injection the vile torture it is; good people exist in America, people who know killing is wrong under any circumstance, no matter how it’s done, or, most critically, who’s doing it.

It is these and all good people whom Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was addressing in his 1954 sermon on “Rediscovering Lost Values,” when he proclaimed: “The thing that we need in the world today is a group of men and women who will stand up for right and be opposed to wrong, wherever it is.” But almost as if issuing a direct rejoinder to King, here again comes Baldwin with his blistering, bare-knuckled truth, its percipient glare so white-hot that it threatens—if we do not learn from it—to burn down all we claim makes America great, if it has not already.

In “The Uses of the Blues,” Baldwin explained that “[p]eople who’ve had no experience suppose that if a man is a thief, he is a thief; but . . . . [t]he most important thing about him is that he is a man and . . . if he’s a thief or a murderer or whatever he is, you could also be and you would know this, anyone would know this who had really dared to live.”

And so, if we who have dared to live—and while less blameworthy, even those who have not—continue to deny this truth, if we continue to deny our collective identity, and that this means that each and every one of us, no matter how damaged, how defective, how depraved, how guilty, are nevertheless human, if we don’t reverse course on this damnable death penalty and fast, not in some meandering, interminably slow, plodding fashion, Baldwin’s diagnosis of America will be as incurable as it is inescapable: “The failure on our part to accept the reality of pain, of anguish, of ambiguity, of death has turned us into a very peculiar and sometimes monstrous people.”

Reinforcing this sentiment in a brilliant piece included in last year’s blockbuster collection of criminal justice reform essays called “Policing the Black Man,” Marc Mauer, executive director of the sentencing project, wrote: “The United States is one of the only industrialized nations that still maintains the death penalty; this both casts a stain on our moral standing and exerts an upward pressure on the severity of punishment across the board.” Only we, fellow citizens, through our mighty electoral power, can change this. No longer can we rely on our feckless Supreme Court to do it for us. And, as it has from time immemorial, history will judge.

Stephen Cooper is a former D.C. public defender who worked as an assistant federal public defender in Alabama between 2012 and 2015. He has contributed to numerous magazines and newspapers in the United States and overseas. He writes full-time and lives in Woodland Hills, California. Follow him on Twitter @SteveCooperEsq


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Opinion | Checking in on the Alabama Accountability Act

Larry Lee



By and large, the Legislature passes laws and seldom looks back to see what impact they are having.  Which seems a HUGE mistake to me.  The Alabama Accountability Act passed in 2013 being a prime example.

So from time to time I visit the Alabama Department of Revenue web site where they post info about AAA.  It’s always an interesting read.

For instance, you find a list current through Feb. 22, 2018 that shows there are now 204 private schools which have signed up to participate in this program that gives vouchers to students to attend private schools.  (This does not mean 204 schools have gotten scholarships, just that many have said they would take them.)


The state indicates if these schools are accredited or not.  Of the 204, 69 of them are NOT accredited.  That’s 33.8 percent.  AAA started in 2013 and 12 of the non-accredited schools have been that way since 2013.  One has to ask why we allow this to happen?  Why are we diverting money from the Education Trust Fund that may go to a school that has had five years to become accredited, but hasn’t?   Is this really looking out for the best interest of the young folks of this state?

For instance, the Alabama Opportunity Scholarship Fund, one of the state’s scholarship granting organizations (SGO), reported that at the end of 2017, they had students at 114 private schools.  By my count, 166 of these scholarships are at 27 non-accredited schools.

The Department of Revenue keeps track of how much money is given to SGOs each year.  From 2013 through 2017, the total amount is $116,617,919.

Remember that each one of these dollars gets a one for one tax credit from the state.  Which means we have now diverted $116 million from the Education Trust Fund for private school scholarships.

Today there are 396,711 elementary students (K-6) in Alabama.  So over the past five years we have diverted $294 from ETF for each one of these students.  That is $7,000 per elementary classroom.

I visit a lot of elementary schools.  I see a lot of classrooms.  I don’t know a single elementary teacher who would not have jumped at the chance to have an extra $7,000 for her classroom since 2013.

In this legislative election year, we need to let every candidate, incumbents and challengers alike, know what is going on.

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Guest Columnists

Opinion | Protecting our children

Bradley Byrne



For much of the year, the safety of our students rests in the hands of the faculty, staff, and resource officers at our schools.  Without a shadow of a doubt, the people who know best how to protect our schools are the teachers, parents, administrators, police officers, and students in their own communities.

In February, the tragic shooting in Parkland, Florida resonated throughout our communities, highlighting a disturbing trend of individuals who clearly show signs of grave mental instability falling through the cracks.

Sadly, this incident likely could have been avoided had there been better oversight at every level of law enforcement.  From the top down, we failed these students by not heeding the warning signs and working together as a team to ensure our students’ safety.


In response to this incident, the House recently passed the Student, Teacher’s Officer’s Prevention (STOP) School Violence Act, which provides grant funding for evidence-based training for our local law enforcement, school faculty and staff, and students to help identify and prevent school violence before these tragic events occur.

First, the STOP School Violence Act provides funding for training to prevent student violence, including training for local law enforcement officers, school personnel, and students in the event of an emergency.  This training would be designed to give students and school personnel the ability to recognize and respond quickly to warning signs of violent behavior and would include active shooter training.

Second, the bill provides funding for technology and equipment to improve school security.  This includes the development and operation of anonymous reporting systems, as well as the installation of metal detectors, locks, and other preventative technologies to keep schools secure.

The legislation also authorizes funding for school threat assessment and crisis intervention teams for school personnel to respond to threats before they become real-time incidents.  Recognizing the warning signs of violent, threatening behavior and having the proper resources to address it on the front end can prevent these tragedies from ever occurring.

Finally, the STOP School Violence Act provides funding to support law enforcement coordination efforts, particularly the officers who already staff schools.  From the federal level all the way down to our local law enforcement, we need to ensure there is accountability and communication when handling violent behavior.

Many of our local schools are already reevaluating their security measures and taking additional steps to promote a safe learning environment for our students.  Our students’ safety and security should always remain a top priority, and I believe it is imperative that our local schools have the most appropriate resources in place in the event of an emergency.

As we look for ways to prevent these terrible tragedies, I am open to additional solutions to address the underlying issues that cause these events to occur.  That said, I remain steadfastly committed to upholding the individual right of all law-abiding Americans to keep and bear arms.  Millions of Americans should not have their Second Amendment rights infringed upon due to the bad actions of a few individuals.

Rather, I believe we should focus on addressing mental health issues and combatting the role of violence in our modern culture, such as the prevalence of violent video games that normalize this behavior for our young students, and promoting commonsense solutions that will address the larger issues of mental health so that those with mental illness do not fall through the cracks.

There is still work to be done to ensure each child’s safety and well-being while attending classes. However, I am proud that we have taken this action in the House to promote a safe, secure learning environment for our children.

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Growing up in the “Home o’ Gomer” Sylacauga​.

by Jim Zeigler Read Time: 4 min